So, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is over! GO ALL BLACKS! Original RWC plans included match fixtures in Christchurch. Then life in ‘The Garden City’ was thrown into chaos by the cruel and dark tyranny of February 23rd’s earthquake, and everything changed. I’ve lived in Australia since 2004, but head back “home” whenever the opportunity arises. Two months before the earthquake, I visited Christchurch and had a perfect bike ride that was enough to convince me I needed to move back. It never happened.
*Note: I originally wrote this a few days after the earthquake.
I bound from the plane, powerwalk (I would have run had my bike been less awkward to carry) to a cab, spill out, frantically unpack my bike and skip dinner to summit the Port Hills before it gets dark. Pushing out from the Rydges Hotel on Oxford Street, I cut straight through Cathedral Square. Onto Colombo Street. Watch for buses. Left at Moorehouse Ave, and along Ferry Road towards Sumner. Marvel at how many people are on bikes, and just how serene cycling through the elegantly gothic city is when compared to Sydney. Everything is familiar, but better than I last remember. The honeymoon that never ends.
Passing through Ferrymead, the first cool ocean breeze brushes a refreshing saltiness against my limbs which, in spite of the evening chill, I leave bare to the pure atmosphere that embraces New Zealand like a protective parent. I stare down the long, straight road traversing the estuary. Instantly, memories of past rides along this dead span of road converge. Condenses to an admixture of uplifting joy, somehow eliminating the ubiquitous headwind.
Buoyed by smiling faces milling about Redcliffs village, and now warm from time-trialling the last handful of KM’s, I sweep along the sheltered road bordering the cliffs of Moncks Bay. A last right-hand bend before Sumner, with a small radius that demands a motorist’s attention – but compels speed from a cyclist – farewells my back wheel. It moves ever closer towards elevation.
I remember Joe’s Garage is close. I’ve never been there before. No time to stop now. Ride first, coffee later. Riding always comes first. Besides, I have great legs today.
Eventually, the lonely road over Evans Pass appears as a dull-grey single ribbon against a hillside whose colour palette mimics the feathers of a kea – from green to tussock-brown, and all shades in between. A bus waits solemnly at the start of the climb, as if to gather breath before the ascent. Eager to test my lungs after sporadic months of barely-undulating out-and-back rides along Melbourne’s Beach Road I shift my hand position, immediately denying my index finger its resting place against the polished shifter.
The big ring challenge begins.
Several hundred metres later, the first drop of sweat dribbles into the inside corner of my eyeball cavity. Oh, yeah. Time to replace my helmet pads. I grip the bars tightly. Shit, this is steeper than I remember. Click. Still in the big ring. Go champ. Hehe, my last boss always hated hearing that word. Champion, champ, buddy. I understand Rob, it is pretty annoying. Two additional shifts up the cassette and my inner mechanic speaks. That’s the worst gear for your chain to be in, you know? Shut up.
Clunk. You win.
Sometime during the next couple of minutes, a realisation that I don’t notice my legs so much. Cadence has settled and smoothed. chi va piano va sano e lontano. Slow and steady wins the race. Where did I read that? Pretty sure it was Cycle Sport UK magazine, maybe that Max Sciandri interview. So weird to think he’s Asst DS for our professional team now. The 7pm sky is so blue and close. Almost tactile.
Feeling good now. There’s the switchback ahead. One last pinch. Clunk. Uff. Glad nobody’s here to listen to this bike. Nobody’s here. Just me. With my bike, on a perfect day. Not really a bunch-riding guy. I need my thinking time. There’s so much to process. Always work-related. Feeling lucky to love my job. Wonder what I would do otherwise. Day-dream until I reach the intersection with Summit Road. Roll to the side. Clip out.
Contemplate turning around to rip the descent. Don’t know when I’ll be back again. On a perfect day. Dinner can wait. Clip in. Push on.
Gricey and I used to ride the big ring all the way to Dyer’s Pass from here. When we were young. He loved that steel Pinarello. His “dream bike”. Imagine having just one bike, forever. Not me. Straight out of Uni and into a bike shop. My first job. Bikes changed with the seasons. I wonder what happened to Gricey?
The big gear challenge resumes.
Hi, how are you? Why do I always ask that when I pass someone? I never hear their reply. Too focused. Too much to process. Legs feel great. Back not so good. If I can’t get on top of the gear sitting down, I’ll stand. That’ll be Mum’s Scottish grit manifesting. Bloody stubborness.
Shit, it’s beautiful up here. I can’t wait to get back home and start planning the move. Maybe I’ll have a shed. A shed! Ha! Sweet. Sweet as. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Tuck into the drops. I’m going to pulverise this false flat. Channel Ullrich. Did that a lot when I dualled up here with Gricey. In the surreal morning mist. Whispering, seductive, chilling. Six months a year.
There’s a cattle-stop up here somewhere. Brrrrrrrrrrrr-iiip! He he, crazy Kiwis. Wonder how many people use the Gondola? Always looks empty. Remember the last ride. Sheep standing nonchalantly, out of sight, around a blind corner. Scared the shit out of me. Poor sheep.
Dyer’s Pass Road getting close. Eyes wander right. Some mad mountain-biking in those trees. Somedays “freerider”, somedays “roadie”. Single, and all the time in the world. Carved the shit out of my right arm the day I flew out to Sydney. Bummed. Brand new video camera fully charged. It was going to be like the ‘Kranked’ series. Road gap, rock garden, step-down, step-ups, berms, eight-foot drop to flat, forty-footer, cave drop. Recorded only by memory with questionable accuracy. Ah well.
Rolling to the intersection. Beautiful silence. Faint “ssshhhhhh” vehicle note rounding a bend in the forest below. I’m going to enjoy the shit out of this descent. I don’t know when I’ll be back again.